The History of New York State
Editor, Dr. James Sullivan
Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam
|However, as the gubernatorial
term neared its end, Marcy must have been somewhat doubtful of
re-election. He was re-nominated, of course; there was still not
stronger Democratic leader in the state; but he must have realized that
the chance of election was slim. Still, strange as it may seem, the
Whigs were equally despondent. William H. Seward, after a close fight
with Granger in convention, was chosen to head the Whig ticket, but he
did not have the enthusiastic support of all Whigs. Many of the leaders
were admirers of Granger, whose personality was charming, and whose
political record was notable, even though it included many defeats.
After a second ballot, which had given Seward sixty and Granger
fifty-two votes, Weed found several of the Granger delegates still
stubborn. One whom he approached, said: "Weed! Tell me to do
anything else; tell me to jump out of the window and break my neck, and
I will do it to oblige you, but don't ask me to desert Granger." It
required five ballots to nominate Seward.
The Whig Legislature earlier in the year had remedied some of the handicaps of the banking law. They had passed a general banking law, and had suspended for two years the act prohibiting banks from issuing notes of small denominations. Sot he financial situation gradually became less awkward. This made the pressure of resentment against the Democrats lighter. Meanwhile, the Whig candidate became enmeshed in another political tangle which threatened to alienate a growing faction.
Gerrit smith, the Abolitionist leader, quizzed Seward as to the propriety of granting fugitive slaves a fair trial by jury, and upon other points vital to the safety of the black whom he might succeed in rescuing and settling in New York State. Seward expressed his opposition to all "human bondage," but was non-committal. He preferred to wait until he became Governor, and then to decide individual cases upon their merits, as they arose. This answer did not satisfy the Abolitionists. They did not know Seward as he really was, which was unfortunate for him. At least, so some of the Whig leaders thought. All perhaps did not view election prospects as gloomily as Millard Fillmore. "The Philistines are upon us," he wrote, after canvassing part of the State. "I now regard all as lost irrevocably. We shall never be able to burst the withes. Thank God, I can endure it as long as they, but I am sick of our Whig party. It can never be in the ascendant." Granger was also in the ranks of the alarmists. He thought the Anti-Slavery vote would reach 20,000. Even Seward was despondent. "I fear the State is lost," he wrote to Weed.
Greeley's Journals--Weed was among those who saw sunlight ahead. Certainly, one of his editorial assistants, Horace Greeley, was. Since February, young Greeley had been editing an eight-paged weekly campaign journal for the Whigs. The journal, the "Jeffersonian," was set up in Albany, in the office of Weed's "Evening Journal." Horace Greeley devoted two days each week to it and seems to have had editorial independence, although he probably brought his own views on vital political points into harmony with those of Weed, who at that time was the acknowledged dictator of the Whig party in New York. Greeley was then twenty-seven years old. Before going to Albany he had gone from a Vermont farm to a printery, and had drifted from one tow to another until, in 1831, he had reached New York City. Three years later the young compositor established there the "New Yorker," "a journal of literature and general intelligence." The Whig party was born in that year, and Greeley's opinions, though independent, were generally in harmony with those which formed the basic principles of the Whigs, to that the "New Yorker" became attractive to that party. Weed was drawn by the forceful writing of its editor, and although he and Greeley did not meet until 1838, and indeed, he did not even know the name of the editor, he realized early in that year that the Whigs stood in need of a campaign paper. He decided that it would be desirable to employ the editor of the "New Yorker" for the purpose. So Weed, the Whig dictator, went to New York City and sought out the young journalist. He found Greeley in an Ann Street cellar, standing at the printer's case, with coat off and sleeves rolled up, setting type with ease and rapidity. The interview confirmed Weed's opinion of the editor of the "New Yorker," and in February, 1838, the first number of the weekly Whig journal, the "Jeffersonian," came from the press of the Albany "Evening Journal." The latter, Weed's paper, was the principal journal of the Whig party of New York, of course, but the weekly "Jeffersonian" was less expensive and could embrace a wider scope. Weed confined himself more to State politics, but Greeley's thoughts, like Hamilton's, were, of more national scope. He "preached to the whole country, sweeping along like a prairie fire and converting men to his views as easily as steel filings are attracted to the magnet." #6 Young though he was, Greeley possessed the "power of appeal and invective that belongs to experience and mature age." He was "always the most interesting, always the most commanding figure in American journalism in the epoch-making political controversies of his day," and in his writings he held himself independent, following his own conviction regardless of factions or parties. "I trust we can never be enemies," he once wrote to Weed, "but better anything than I should feel the weight of chains about my neck, that I should write and act with an eye to any man's pleasure rather than to the highest good." His adherence to this standard made his messages all the stronger and more respected. Weed could not control him, and they were never fully in each other's confidence. Yet the older journalist was shrewd enough to see that Greeley's general line of thought would be Whigward, and that Greeley was, therefore, of greater service to that party than to any other. So he heartily encouraged the young man in his literary efforts.
The "Jeffersonian" accordingly emerged from Weed's printing office each week during the spring, summer and autumn of 1838; and while the Whig candidate and his lieutenants went about with despondent hearts if not gloomy faces, Greeley's words were taking root in many minds. The election day was November 7; and, as election returns began to come in, Whig faces brightened. On the 11th the Albany "Evening Journal" devoted its entire first page to an illustration of an eagle which bore in its beak the word "Victory." It is said that this "was the first appearance in politics of this American bird." #7 Marcy was defeated by a majority of 10,241, Seward receiving 192,882 votes and Marcy only 182,461. Five of the eight Senators elected were Whigs, and two-thirds of the Assemblymen.
Marcy took his dismissal good-naturedly, but a few weeks later he bemoaned the fact that, pecuniarily, he found himself poorer at the end of eighteen years of State service e then he had been when Van Buren took the young lawyer-journalist from a small town to help in forming the Albany Regency, that triumvirate which demonstrated how to maintain State departments at high standard and still hold patronage to party. "If my acquisitions in a pecuniary way have probably been less and my labours and exertions greater, what compensating advantages are to be brought into the calculations to balance the account?" asked Marcy. His despondency was only temporary, however, for Van Buren did not forget him, and he soon found a national office for the ex-governor in his cabinet.
The Whig Triumvirate--The triumvirate--Weed, Seward and Greeley--which had unseated a triumvirate--the Regency--of long reign took over the administration of New York State. Greeley soon went back to journalism of less pointedly political purpose, Seward mounted the gubernatorial chair, and Weed was according the sceptre. Weed was not an arbitrary dictator. He was not dogmatic, his guidance of Seward being persuasive rather than arrogant, for otherwise Seward would not have heeded his recommendations. Seward had a profound respect for the political wisdom and fine human qualities of the Whig leader. He knew that he owed his election mainly to him, and there was no trace of the ingrate in Seward. As he frankly wrote to Weed after the elections: "God grant, at all events, that I be spared from committing the sin of ingratitude. I hate it as the foulest in the catalogue." A month later in a humorous though sincere strain, the governor-elect wrote to, and of, his counsellor: "My dear Weed: the sweetness of his temper inclines me to love my tyrant. I had no idea that dictators were such amiable creatures." It was generally expected that State affairs, under governor Seward, would be directed mainly by Weed. AS William Kent jocularly remarked: "Mr. Dictator, the whole State is on your shoulders," but Seward never felt "the weight of chains" about his neck, as Greeley--a much different personality--dreaded might happen to him in the clashing of his political opinions with those of Weed. After four years of Governorship and of close association with Weed, Seward was truthfully able to say to his supposed dictator: "Without your aid, how helpless would have been my prospect of reaching the elevation from which I am today descending. How could I have sustained myself there; how could I have secured the joyous reflections of this hour, but for the confidence I have undenyingly reposed in your affection." To have such a dictator at one's side would be an advantage, not the detriment it would seem. It must not be supposed that Governor Seward was a weak-minded man--like one of his predecessors, Yates, for instance. Seward was an executive of positive, honest thought and confident action, self-reliant when conscientiously convinced. He esteemed the astuteness of his adviser, and generally their opinions harmonized. A story, which is not true but which Governor Seward himself laughingly admitted "ought to be,' is referred to by Alexander to illustrate the point. It is a stage-coach anecdote. Seward, it seems, invariably rode outside the coach while smoking his after-dinner cigar. The whip, on this occasion, did not know him. Seward put many questions to him, and the driver at last lost patience. "What are you?" he asked, "a merchant? a lecturer? A minister? A teacher?" Seward continued to shake his head. "Then I know what you are; you must be a lawyer, or you wouldn't' ask so many questions." "that is not my business at present,' replied Seward. "Then who are you?" demanded the puzzled whip. "I am the Governed of this State," replied Seward, not ostentatiously. The driver smiled his doubts, and would not be persuaded. "Let's leave it to the landlord at the next tavern," suggest Seward. So, at the next halt, Seward exhibited himself for identification. "No, you re not the Governor," replied the landlord. Seward was take aback. "What!" he exclaimed, "then who is Governor?" "Why," declared the landlord, with finality, "Thurlow Weed."
Seward, as might be expected, had ideas quite the opposite of those of the Regency in regard to internal improvements. He indicated this difference when he recommended that a monument be erected in Albany to the memory of DeWitt Clinton. The Regency had discouraged the expenditure of money on canal improvements; Seward, on the contrary, was prepared to promote canal construction vigorously, and also to foster railways. In many other phases of public works he declared himself pledged to active encouragement. Seward brought youth wit him into the State departments, which had been functioning only with the sluggishness of staid maturity. He delighted in executive authority, and radiated a refreshing interest in State affairs. Of course, the dispossessed Democrats lost no opportunity of belittling this attitude, which they thought indicated the immaturity of the novice. Seward was, it seems, a little in advance of his time, but nevertheless, most of his optimistic suggestions found place in the statute books within a decade or so.
In dispensing State patronage, however, the Governor and the Dictator, with the formal aid of the Whig Legislature, did not succeed. Having seized the proscriptive privilege from Van Buren and the Regency, and having shown no disinclination to follow at least this one vital principle of their opponents--that "to the victor go the spoils"--they found it within their power to dismiss Democrats from and appoint Whigs to very many State offices. Governor Seward, with the consent of the Legislature and the advice of the Dictator, had power to appoint port wardens, harbor masters, notaries, superintendents, commissioners, judges, surrogates, county clerks, examiners, weighers, measurers of grain, cullers of staves, inspectors of flour, lumber, spirits salt, beef, hides, fish and oil, and numerous other officers. In almost all appointments the recommendation of Thurlow Weed was taken. In matters of State patronage Weed was, to all intents, the official distributor. Therefore, his account as stated in his autobiography, is somewhat humorous reading. Bates Cook, who became comptroller, "had but a local reputation," wrote Weed, "and it required the strongest assurances from Governor Seward and myself that he was personally qualified.: "the canvass for attorney-general was very spirited, Joshua A. Spencer, of Oneida and Samuel Stevens, of Albany, being the most prominent candidates; but Willis Hall, who was better known on the stump than at the bar, and whose zeal, energy and tact had been conspicuous and effective in overthrowing the Democratic party" got the office. Evidently campaign service was the weightiest qualification. Weed was frank enough to admit that Jacob Haight, who became State Treasurer, owed his appointment most to the fact that he and Weed were chums in boyhood. "The nomination of Jacob Haight afforded me great satisfaction." Writes Weed. "I learned in my boyhood at Catskill to esteem and honour him. In 1824, when, as a Democratic Senator, he arrayed himself against William H. Crawford, the caucus nominee for President, and zealously supported John Quincy Adams, my early remembrance of him grew into a warm personal friendship." In the selection of a United States Senator to succeed Nathaniel P. Tallmadge, the Dictator experienced greater difficulty in bringing unanimous accord. Among the aspirants were Millard Fillmore, John C. Spencer, John A. Collier, and Joshua A. Spencer. Tallmadge fully expected to succeed himself, for he had drawn to the support of Seward a strong faction of former National republicans who had joined the Democratic party, but had in the recent election followed Tallmadge under the name of Conservatives. That faction, upon very slight affront, would go back to the Democrats. That would be regrettable, thought Weed, especially in view of the approaching presidential year. On the other hand, Fillmore, who was then in Congress, had been a most useful campaign leader and looked upon his own promotion to the Senate as only the reward of service rendered. Tallmadge was nominated "with considerable unanimity," the action coming "as a distinct shock to the expectant Fillmore." Several other disappointed office seekers made the life of Weed somewhat unpleasant. "It has been a tremendous winter," wrote Weed in 1839, to his friend Granger. Weed admitted that there were "a great many disappointed friends." "But for the presidential question, which will absorb all other things," he confessed, "the appointments would tear us to pieces." Of course, although it was generally known that the choice really lay with Weed, the Governor had to bear the brunt of the discontent. In his own defense Seward wrote: "The list of appointments made this winter is fourteen hundred, and I am not surprised by an manifestation of disappointment or dissatisfaction. This only I claim--that no interest, passion, prejudice or partiality of my own has controlled any decision I have made."
A "clean sweep" of Democrats from office could not, however, be made until the election of 1839 gave the Whigs the control of the Senate--the first time in eighteen years that the Regency had been in the minority of the upper house. Weed's lieutenants made adroit use of a substantial campaign fund to elect three Whig senators in Albany. This gave the Whigs nineteen Senators and the Democrats thirteen. No time was afterwards lost in getting Senate confirmation of appointments.
The Log Cabin Campaign--The Presidential conventions of 1839-40 were just as exciting to Weed. Clay expected to be the Whig nominee; and he fully expected to carry New York. Weed had indeed told him that he could not do so, but very many New York Whigs thought that he could and should. The Dictator was determined to secure the nomination of Harrison. To accomplish this he had to get the section of delegates ostensibly favorable to General Scott. Of the thirty-two delegates who went to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to represent New York in December, 1839, twenty were for Scott, only two were for Harrison and ten were for Clay. On the way to the convention Weed came to an understanding with New England leaders. This finally resulted in a merging of the Scott and Harrison forces in favor of the latter. Thus it happened that Harrison finally secured 148 votes against Clay's 90. Clay's supporters were keenly disappointed, and the convention was in such commotion that at one time it seemed that no Vice-presidential nominee could be nominated. If Albert H. Tracy, of Buffalo, had not some time earlier withdrawn from politics,. Disgruntled at some of the New York appointments made by Weed, he might have had the nomination, and, upon the death of Harrison, he might have stepped into the Presidency, but fate had decreed otherwise. John Tyler was finally nominated as Vice-President, because, as Weed wrote, "we could get nobody else to accept."
A month earlier, the Abolitionists held a convention at Warsaw, in New York State. The abolitionists, as the Liberty party, now thought that the time had come for all anti-Slavery bodies throughout the country to "organize a distinct and independent political party." They nominated James G. Birney, of New York, for President, and Francis J. le Moyne, of Pennsylvania, for Vice-President. Both declined, Birney because the convention was not "a national body held for nominating purposes." However, on April 1, of the next year, the Liberty Party held another convention at Albany, New York. Six States were represented, and Birney then accepted the nomination. Thomas Earle, of Pennsylvania, was nominated for the minor office. From that year until the Republican party took over the fight for emancipation of Negroes the Abolitionists, as the Liberty Party or as Free Soilers, took part in all the Presidential campaigns, but never carried a single State or secured a single electoral vote. Nevertheless, the Abolitionists exercised an increasing influence, their sentiments spreading and gaining strength until they were able to sweep away the curse that almost brought the Nation to its death.
In May, 1840, the Democrats went into convention at Baltimore. They re-nominated Van Buren with unanimity; but the outlook was not good. Possibly the fact that they were on the edge of the precipice made them steel themselves to positive measures. They adhered to their Sub-Treasury policy; and to continued opposition to the re-chartering of a national bank; they opposed trusts; and they pronounced the efforts of Anti-Slavery association and factions as both alarming and dangerous to the Union." These were the main planks of Democratic platforms during the next two decades, and might have carried Van Buren to victory if the panic of 1837 had not been too poignant a memory. The country had not yet recovered, indeed was not destined to recover for another five or six years. Spasmodic efforts to resume specie payment had been made in Philadelphia and New York in 1838, 1839, and 1840, but dangerous shortage of metallic currency had been disclosed at each attempt. Van Buren's Sub-Treasury scheme had been blocked by Clay and Madison; and it was not until July of 1840 that the measure was enacted--too late to be of any use to Van Buren in the Presidential campaign. Van Buren's valiant struggle to save the Nation from insolvency was likened to the historic effort of Marcus Curtius, who stepped into the breach in the roman Forum to save the republic from collapsing. At least, the President's friends drew this parallel, but disrespectful Whigs saw a difference; one pointed out: #8 "The Roman feller jumped into the gap of his own accord, but the people throw'd Van Buren in."
One of the bitterest opponents of the Sub-Treasury scheme, and of the re-election of Van Buren, was Madison. He viewed Van Buren's effort as deplorable "disregard for the public distress." To him, the president seemed only to seek to build a fence around the money of the Federal Government, and was not inclined to give any thought to broad measures to alleviate the distress of the people. In the heat of campaign politics Madison gave voice to effective criticism but poor prophecy when he said: "He who expects to live to see these twenty-six states resuming specie payments in regular succession once more may expect to see the restoration of the Jews. Never! He will die without the sight." Of course, the California "gold rush" had not yet begun, and the "Forty-niners" had not yet begun to trek across the desert, but the resumption of specie payment was general long before the discovery of gold in California; and Madison lived to see it. Still, his utterances--and those of most political speakers of 1840 who denounced the Government--were what the people delighted in. They probably would have ousted Van Buren whether stump orators roamed the land or not, for they knew their personal state to be deplorable, and they wanted a government that would change it. Change was what they demanded. As Webster said: "Every breeze says change; the cry, the universal cry, is for a change." The people, as a whole, were political expounders in 1840. The Whig State convention which re-nominated Seward for Governor of New York, was such an astounding evidence of the public interest that Democrats might have seen dark skies ahead. The convention at Utica was a mass-meeting of 25,000 people. "How long is this procession?" asked a bystander of one of the marshals. "Indeed, sir, I cannot tell," was the reply. "The other end of it is forming somewhere near Albany."
Democrats of New York nominated William C. Bouck to oppose Seward; and in any other time than that he might have defeated Seward, for Bouck, the Schoharie farmer, was widely known, especially in connection with the canal projects. For a couple of decades he had been a canal commissioner, and he comes creditably into the small group of great men who were responsible for the completion of this stupendous public work. He had personally superintended the construction of a section of it, and up and down the canal-way he was known almost as well as DeWitt Clinton had been. Bouck, whom the people came to nickname "The old white horse," because his wanderings throughout the State, were, for many years, astride a horse of that color, was a man of little academic learning, but of innate intelligence and much practical experience. Seward thought him "a kind, honest, amiable, and sagacious man, his easy and fascinating manners lacking neither dignity not grave." Bouck was undoubtedly a strong candidate, but it mattered not; for the most he could do was to reduce Seward's majority of 1838. #9 The eyes of the people were on National , not State, affairs. The National Democrats had brought them to this sorry pass of poverty, and the National Government must pay. Everywhere the fury of condemnation of this National policy was rising. "The Nation," said Clay, "was like the ocean when convulsed by some terrible storm."
The association of the log cabin with Harrison was a happy idea, suggested, it seems., by a Democratic paper. The log-cabin portion of Harrison's Indiana home may not have been more than an outhouse, but after a Virginia newspaper had tauntingly recommended the general to "remain in his log cabin on the banks of the Ohio," Thurlow Weed, of New York, saw in the log cabin, "a symbol of virtue that dwells in obscurity, of the hopes of the humble, of the privations of the poor, of toil and danger, of hospitality and charity and frugality." Alexander writes: Log cabins sprang up like gourds in a night. At the door stood the cider barrel, and, hanging by the window, the omnipresent coonskin swayed in the breeze. They appeared on medals, in pictures, in fancy work, and in processions." Horace Greeley cam conspicuously into the campaign with another political journal, the "Log Cabin," which was just as effective over a wider area as the "Jeffersonian" had been two years before. The "log cabin and hard cider" campaign, which was without precedent or successor, was undoubtedly attractive; and the campaign songs, including "Tippecanoe and Tyler too," were perhaps sung with greater gusto to the accompaniment of hard cider. It is said that Harrison and Tyler were fairly "sung into the White House"; yet they would have reached it, probably, had there been no cider and no log cabins. The people were out to oust the Government. The popular vote gave Harrison a majority of almost 15,000 over Van Buren, and in the electoral college Van Buren received only sixty votes against two hundred and thirty-four cast for Harrison.
Most galling to Van Buren must have been the compete defection of his own State. Every one of New York's forty-two electoral votes went to Harrison. At the end of his one term President Van Buren retired to his native village, or at least to his estate, "Lindenwald," in the vicinity of Kinderhook. His political career was over. He never regained public favor, and although he lived for another two decades mentally vigorous he never showed any desire to re-enter law practice. The remaining years of his life, and, by his own testimony, the happiest, were spent in farming upon his Kinderhook estate, where he "dispensed a gracious hospitality" and lived the life of a cultured, approachable, substantial country gentleman, interested the affairs of his neighbors, and esteemed by almost all. He died at Kinderhook, July 24, 1862, mourned as one of the great New Yorkers.
So much that is less favorable, and perhaps less truthful was written or said of Van Buren by those who envied or opposed him that it would be well to put on record the opinion of one whose political association with the Kinderhook statesman was close enough to provide opportunity for accurate delineation of his character. General Jackson, conversing with a visitor a few days before his own death, said of Mr. Van Buren:
I have enjoyed a long and happy acquaintance with Mr. Van Buren, and have ever found him perfectly honest; as a statesman quick and penetrating, possessing a powerful mind governed by strict integrity; ever ready to sacrifice personal feelings for the good of his country, and totally regardless of individual popularity when his duty called him to defend the rights of the people. . . . .There is no man in the country that has ever been in public life, to my knowledge, who has passed a life with more purity in all his public and private duties. . . . .He, like myself, has suffered, very unjustly, much persecution, but, conscious of having done our duty here below, we must leave to a merciful providence and an honest and enlightened public to render what is due to our memory when we are no more. . . .Say, sir, to Mr. Van Buren I would write to him if I could, but I cannot. I shall write no more." #10
This testimony, given as it was "in the shadow of the grave" may be looked upon as summing up Martin Van Buren as he really was.
Jackson's main objection tot he United States Bank was that its power could be used for political ends. Van Buren fully concurred; and, as the Whigs were to learn very soon, the immediate successors of the Democratic Presidents were also to concur. Within a month of his inauguration as President, General Harrison died. Tyler, of course, automatically became President. Tyler jarred the Whigs frost by refusing appointments to Whigs; but when he vetoed the bill which would have re-chartered the national bank, he became a President without a party. Tyler declared that for twenty-five years he had been opposed to the placing of political power in the hands of bankers. His policy was not much unlike that of the two great Democrats, Jackson and Van Buren. Tyler, perhaps, did not expect to be nominated for president in 1844, or preferred to follow his conscience rather than his interest. His action at all events, lost him the nomination. The Whig leaders were so incensed against him that they ostracized, or tried to discipline, all who sided with Tyler. The Tyler cabinet, except Webster, retired in a body, and John C. Spencer, who became Secretary of War and took up the defense of the President, aroused the ire of Thurlow Weed, the "drum major" of the Whigs.
Seward Loses Governorship--Governor Seward did not enhance his reputation during his second term. Difficulty came out of his suggestion that separate school maintained by Roman Catholics should share in State appropriations for school purposes; he stirred religious prejudice in this. He played dangerously with international relations by his refusal to follow the recommendation of Secretary Webster that Alexander McLeod, who had been apprehended in New York, should not be brought to trial as a party in the "Caroline" affair of 1837. McLeod had been charged with murder and arson, but the British minister demanded his release on the ground that the destruction of the "Caroline" "was a public act of persons in Her Majesty's service, obeying the orders of their superior authorities." Lord Palmerston suggested that the execution of a sentence of death upon McLeod would "produce war, war immediately and frightful in character, because it would be a war of retaliation and vengeance." Governor Seward declined to interfere with the legal courts, though he fully intended to exercise his prerogative by pardoning the prisoner if convicted, so as to prevent the threatened war. Judge Philo Gridley, however, was even more determined than Seward. In charging the jury, he said that if, in their judgment, the evidence warranted a verdict of guilty they should convict the prisoner, even though it should "light up the land with the flame of war." #11 Fortunately for international amity, the jury acquitted McLeod. The Governor was the man who suffered most by the incident, for Seward would have come more picturesquely into the incident had McLeod been convicted and pardoned.
In a controversy with Virginia over the fugitive slave question, Governor Seward also lost ground. The southern State had demanded the surrender of three colored men, charged with aiding in the escape of a slave, but before he could act the local court had discharged the prisoners, finding that no offense against the laws of Virginia has been committed. There was not need for Seward to have gone farther than to advise the Virginia governor of the action of the court; but Seward, who had found the affidavit defective, volunteered and interpretation of the constitutional provision for the surrender of fugitives from justice. He contended that it applied only to acts made criminal by the laws of both States, and not to "an act inspired by the spirit of humanity and of the Christian religion," which was not penal in New York. In this tactless action, Seward proved himself to be a better lawyer than politician.
There was another and mote direct cause of Governor Seward's fall from popular favor in 1842. In following a different canal policy from that of Governor Marcy and the Regency, he had incidentally pledged State credit to an astounding extent. Much improvement in canalways had been accomplished, but, in those years of financial stress the average citizen scrutinized expenditures more apprehensively. During Marcy's administration, the canal expenses for improvements were kept within the receipts. Seward's optimism led him in 1838 to authorize a loan of four millions for canal improvements. By 1841 the debt had increased to eighteen mills, and the projected improvements were still only half completed. Seward was charged with reckless administration. He was thought to be too visionary, and too impractical. Horace Greeley, many years later, declared that governments like Seward's would be "very likely to whelm all in general embarrassment, if not in general bankruptcy." "Few Governors have favored, few Senators voted for more unwisely, lavish expenditures than he," wrote Greeley. "Above the suspicion of voting money into his own pocket, he has a rooted dislike to opposing a project or bill whereby any of his attached friends are to profit." Greeley valued his own opinion most, but he seems to have thought that Seward's confidence in himself exceeded that of the average man. "Conceited as we all are, I think most men exceed him in the art of concealing from others their overweening faith in their own sagacity and discernment," wrote Greeley. Seward was apparently a little too young yet for the weightiest responsibilities of state.
That Whigs, in general, were somewhat disappointed with his administration was evident in 1841, especially after the elections of that year had given the Democrats a majority in both State houses. The fact that Sanford E. Church, one of the new legislators, was the first Democrat elected in the so-called "infected region" (Anti-Masonic Western New York) since the abduction of Morgan, was indication that something was wrong with the Whig party in New York. One of the first to recognize this change of sentiment was Seward himself. He thought his principles were "too liberal, too philanthropic" for his party; and rather than divide the Whigs in convention he would prefer to withdraw. "My principles are very good and popular ones for a man out of office," he said; "they will take care of me, when out of office, as they always have done. I have had enough, Heaven knows, of the power and pomp of office."
The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927
This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library
Transcribed by Holice B. Young
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